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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Seth Siegel, "Israeli Water, Mideast Peace?": Is Blood Thicker Than Water?

Israel is experiencing one its driest winters on record. As reported by The Times of Israel (http://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-sees-driest-january-on-record/):

"Israel experienced its driest January since records have been kept, with Jerusalem seeing almost no rainfall at all for the entire month.

According to the Israeli Hydrological Service’s Amir Givati, such a parched January is beyond living memory."

This drought would indeed be a disaster for Israel were it not for the massive desalination facilities built in recent years on the shores of the Mediterranean, which will ultimately provide up to 80 percent of Israel's potable water (see: http://www.jta.org/2013/05/28/news-opinion/israel-middle-east/water-surplus-in-israel-with-desalination-once-unthinkable-is-possible).

Syria, however, was not so lucky. Many believe that its current catastrophic civil war was sparked by a prolonged drought that wrecked havoc with its agriculture. As reported by U.S News & World Report in an article entitled "How Climate Change Sparked the Crisis in Syria" (http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/world-report/2013/09/13/syrias-crisis-was-sparked-by-global-warming-and-drought) by Michael Shank and Emily Wirzba:

"What few people in Washington are talking about when it comes to the Syria crisis is the connection to climate change. While it may seem remote and implausible to Washington realists, the connection is clear. What is most disconcerting, however – vis-à-vis Damascus – is that America could have helped prevent Syria's violent revolution from escalating if we, alongside the international community, had done a better job helping out with one simple, but increasingly unattainable, resource: water.

Here's what happened: Prior to Syria's civil war, the country experienced a devastating drought impacting more than 1.3 million people, killing up to 85 percent of livestock in some regions and forcing 160 villages to be abandoned due to crop failures. Estimates that Syria's water scarcity problem would cause major social and economic instability, furthermore, emerged very early, just as President Barack Obama was taking office."

Readers of this blog know that I have long believed that Israeli desalination technologies could hold the key to Middle East peace. Back in 2011, I wrote (http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2011/06/thomas-friedman-earth-is-full-tom-is.html):

"Indeed, Yemen could run out of potable water within a decade unless it purchases several Israeli desalination plants, which will prevent this from happening. Yes, I know -- Yemen will have a problem buying anything from Israel, but at least in my view, Middle East cooperation in managing water resources might hold the key to peace between Arabs and Israelis."

Again, in 2012, I wrote (http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2012/04/thomas-friedman-other-arab-spring.html):

"Well, unbeknownst to [Thomas] Friedman, Israel, which borders Syria, has also been experiencing a multi-year drought, but has been building massive desalination plants in order to compensate for the shortfall in rain. It doesn't take much insight regarding what needs to be done by Syria and other Arab states, but are they capable of swallowing their pride and buying this technology from Israel?"

Well, today, in a guest New York Times op-ed entitled "Israeli Water, Mideast Peace?" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/17/opinion/israeli-water-mideast-peace.html?ref=opinion&_r=0), Seth Siegel, "a founder of Beanstalk, a brand-licensing agency, and of Sixpoint Partners, an investment bank," tells us:

"Israel’s self-sufficiency in water goes beyond irrigation, drilling, desalination and reclaimed water. It is also dependent on a sophisticated legal and regulatory structure, market mechanisms, robust public education, an obsession with fixing leaks and efforts to catch rainwater and reduce evaporation, among many other tools. Natural plant-breeding methods have raised crop yields with salty, high-mineral brackish water of the kind found, but mostly thought of as worthless, all over the Middle East. Israel has transformed water from a struggle with nature to an economic input: You can get all you want if you plan and pay for it.

No one should wish for a water crisis anywhere. But as water problems grow, one hopes that ideology will give way to pragmatism and may open a door to an Arab and Islamic outreach to Israel. A partnership that starts with engineers and extends to farmers could contribute to deal making, even reconciliation, among leaders. Rather than seeing Israel as a problem, Israel’s antagonists would be wise to see it as a solution."

Obviously, Mr. Siegel and I share the same view. However, as I noted in my 2011 and 2012 blogs, the purchase of Israeli desalination plants by Arab countries could be difficult for them to swallow. Consider how, following the 1973 Yom Kippur War, after Israel was attacked by Egypt and Syria, most African countries broke diplomatic ties with Israel, notwithstanding many years of agricultural assistance received from Israel under the auspices of Golda Meir (see: http://www.jpost.com/Features/A-jilted-love-affair-in-Africa).

Indeed, hatred of Jews and Israel runs deep throughout the world. Swallow their pride and buy a desalination plant from Israel, or, allow their citizens to die of thirst? Many countries in the Muslim Middle East would choose the latter.

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